Sounds of Silence: The Security Council Endorses Ambitious Disarming, Dr. Robert Zuber

3 Mar

Guns at Rest

Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?  Lawrence Durrell

And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.  Audre Lorde

People never expect silence. They expect words, motion, defense, offense, back and forth. They expect to leap into the fray. They are ready, fists up, words hanging, leaping from their mouths.  Silence? No. Alison McGhee

Talk, talk, talk: the utter and heartbreaking stupidity of words.  William Faulkner

The UN this week, much like the world at large, was replete with motion and “talk” on a variety of related fronts.  From dueling Security Council resolutions on Venezuela with acrimony to match, to renewed resolve (under the Kimberley Process) to turn remaining pockets of “conflict diamonds” into “peace diamonds” (as Romania and others insisted), the UN and those seeking to cover its many events had our collective hands full.

We of course welcomed all of this week’s interest by diplomats in security in all its diverse manifestations.   From a Norway-sponsored event to honor the 20th anniversary of the highly effective Mine Ban Treaty to a Japan-led event to commemorate the 25th anniversary of “human security” –an integrative concept beyond “hard security” preoccupations with weapons and alliances — we support (as most of you already know) holistic initiatives that seek to impact both over-produced weapons and under-inclusive governance; initiatives that seek to reduce weapons-related threats in part by addressing complementary challenges related to state corruption, climate-induced disasters and the persistent rights abuses and social inequities that provide too-easy rationales for so many to acquire and use weapons in the first place.

We urge states to address, as Poland mentioned this week in the Security Council, the “destabilizing acquisition” of weapons by states which cannot easily control their movements nor guarantee that weapons replaced by such acquisitions will not fall into the hands of non-state actors.  But we also urge action on the “destabilizing production” of weapons, the shiny new toys that are unlikely to provide any more “human security” than the toys states have already grown tired of.  To these ends, we have doubled down on support for efforts such as the Peace Angel’s “USA Weapons Destruction Campaign,” an initiative which seeks to repurpose weapons used to kill into works of art that can both inspire more peaceful communities and help identify ways to address the “triggers” of conflict that lead too many in these unsettled times to believe in the power of weapons more than in the power of the human spirit.

From the standpoint of a more secure world, this week’s main event was Wednesday in the Security Council where many delegations and a few civil society voices addressed the successes and gaps of the “Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020” initiative.  Under the leadership of the Foreign Minister of Equatorial Guinea, the Council session was noteworthy for its verbal and active support of an aspiration that has proven to be more ambitious and complex than was perhaps originally envisioned, but which has inspired actions likely to accrue lasting benefits for more secure African societies going forward.

As 2019 reaches the “quarter pole” it would be foolish to suggest that gun-related “silence” across this large continent is likely to occur in nine months’ time.   Armed violence in many forms continues to impact African states from Burundi and Cameroon to Libya and Somalia. Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram insurgents are among the non-state actors indulging regularly in armed threats against civilians and government forces, and governments themselves have been responsible for armed attacks in South Sudan and elsewhere.  Moreover, the Security Council has authorized responses to insurgent threats, including the G5 Sahel Force, which have resulted in the importation of yet more weapons into theaters of conflict, albeit weapons lodged in the hands of “legitimate” authorities.  Whatever the merits of such supplemental and robust coercive measures – whether in Mali, South Sudan or DR Congo – at the end of the day these guns must also eventually go silent if the goals of this African initiative are to be fulfilled.

And yet, despite some notable setbacks, we have seen over these past few years an awakening of cross-regional capacity and resolve among Africans and their leadership which, together with UN and other supporters, have shifted at least part of the playing field regarding our responses to threats of armed conflict.  As evidenced by Wednesday’s Security Council meeting, the African Union and regionally-focused organizations such as ECOWAS and IGAD have undertaken a series of important measures to help ensure fair elections, mediate disputes within and between states, promote inclusive sustainable development, uphold the rule of law, and provide incentives for state leaders reluctant to share or relinquish power to rethink their alleged “indispensability.”

In Liberia, Eritrea, Guinea and elsewhere, threats of armed violence and rights abuses have given way to a welcome “silence” of sorts that must be fully utilized to consolidate gains and ensure that such abuses once renounced are not allowed to return.  These and other successes, perhaps even now in the Central African Republic as well, are in part a function of rapidly-evolving security architecture across Africa that will increasingly be able to “flag” emerging conflicts, mediate active conflicts, protect those displaced by conflict, and call attention to the many development and “human security” benefits that could well accrue in societies that have succeeded in finally silencing the guns.

Noteworthy for us in Wednesday’s Council debate were the pointed warnings from ACCORD’s Gounden and even a few diplomats about the need for vigilance in defusing the “time bombs” that tick loudly when guns proliferate in environments characterized by limited employment, governance challenges, unplanned urban growth and criminality.  The Council must, Gounden insisted, remain strongly engaged on the causes of armed violence in Africa.  The danger, he rightly noted, is that the guns will not be silenced but only the active and supportive voices of Council members.

And yet across seven “talkative” hours, it was apparent to most diplomats that “silencing of the guns” must continue and in concert with other “silencings” – of rights abuses and neglect of the rule of law (Belgium); of  discriminatory practices affecting the safety and access of women and cultural minorities (Ireland); of the constant march of development-desperate persons displaced by drought, flooding and conflict threats (Equatorial Guinea); of economic inequalities and illegal efforts to exploit natural resources for criminal gain (European Union); of the failure to include youth in policy decisionmaking, especially on conflict and employment (Botswana and Kenya); of impediments to education and health access (Angola), and much more.   Silencing the guns remains the essential condition that makes these other “silencing” tasks more likely to succeed.  Thus the key, as noted by South Africa, is to ensure that “that countries exiting conflict do not return to conflict conditions,” that guns once silenced are not permitted to roar again.

As the Foreign Minister of Equatorial Guinea noted during his opening remarks, “a conflict-free Africa will likely remain a utopia unless we promote inclusive development and put to use all available conflict prevention and resolution tools.”   This is, of course, sound advice, especially as the year 2020 inches closer.  Through this commitment to “silencing,” African states have sought to move mountains, and in fact have moved a few.  But as Namibia’s Ambassador reminded the Council, “if we want to continue moving mountains” on armed violence in Africa, we must begin by “lifting stones,” by engaging any number of smaller actions that set aside the “stupidity” of too many policy words and set about to build societies that can fulfill more conflict-related promises, end more social inequities, promote more trustworthy governance, and allow the displaced a safe and dignified return home.

As we sit here in March 2019, Africans are unlikely to meet their 2020 “silencing” goals at face value, but they have surely embarked on a path (albeit uneven at times) that offers hope both to their own peoples and to others watching across continental borders.  As this new peace and security architecture for Africa continues its evolution, we must all pledge to stay engaged.  This is simply not the time for the rest of us to withhold our own practical contributions or silence our own supportive voices.

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